Having support from friends and family can improve an athlete's performance, a new study suggests.

While hard work and talent are not discounted, the study makes a statistical link between social support and performance among golfers.

The researchers studied 197 British male amateur golfers, who all played at a high level (handicaps ranging from +2 to 4). The golfers completed questionnaires to measure the level of support they receive from peers. They were also questioned about their confidence before a game and about a number of factors that could cause stress or anxiety.

The quality of their performance was measured, taking into account their score, handicap and conditions on the day.

The analysis showed that, when playing under stress, social support could improve performance by nearly one shot per round of golf. For players with the lowest levels of support, increases in stress caused a performance deterioration of up to three shots per round.

"Our study reveals the ongoing support of friends and family to be one of the most important factors influencing sports performance," said Tim Rees of the University of Exeter's School of Sport and Health Sciences. "While training, tactics and luck all play a part, the encouraging words or kind gestures of a partner or friend can make the difference between a footballer scoring that winning goal, or a sprinter achieving a record time. The encouragement and support of friends and family clearly plays a massive part in building confidence, which is so important when the pressure is on."

Though the study involved golf, the researchers believe their results would be relevant for any sport and probably for other areas of performance, including work.

The findings, announced today, are detailed in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.